The national U-16 team begin their OFC Championship campaign on home soil with a convincing 5-0 win over Papua New Guinea at Lawson Tama Stadium.
Both teams started the all Melanesian encounter aiming for a win after favorites New Zealand 8-0 humbling of Vanuatu in the opening match.
Captain Charles Mani should have put the hosts ahead twice in the opening 10 minutes only for his final touch in the box to let him down.
The defining moment arrived moments later as birthday boy Raphael Le’ai opened the scoring in the 12th minute.
Mani’s initial shot rebound perfectly for Le’ai to tap in from close range to put the home side ahead.
Solomon Islands settled down after talking the lead to put more pressure on the PNG defensive wall.
Le’ai converted a penalty on the half-hour mark and went on to complete his first half hat-trick as both teams went back into the sheds.
The young Kapuls came back stronger in the second half but Chris Satu and Le’ai put the game to bed with a goal apiece.
Solomon Islands coach Stanley Waita said the pressure of playing at home get hold of his players in the opening minutes of the encounter.
“We started off a bit slow which were supposed not to do”, he said.
“We wanted to play a high intensity game but we managed to come back with a goal which gave us confidence.
“For the boys this is there first time to play in front of a big crowd and they’re all a bit nervous. For me, well done to my boys and I give credit to PNG for coming hard during the game.”
Waita congratulates Le’ai for his five star performances especially on his birthday.
“As expected Raphael has done extremely well today, I told him in the dressing room that today is his birthday and he need to do something to give him a birthday present. So today, he did what we wanted”, Waita added.
Captain Mani gave credit to his fellow teammates for their tireless effort in the win.
“We were a bit nervous in the opening minutes because all of us never played on this level before”, Mani said.
“So I want to thank my teammates for coming out with a big win in our opening match.
“Big thank you to our people who came out in the rain to support us.
“We will continue to work hard ahead of our two important matches in the group.”
Papua New Guinea coach Anthony Pakakota gave credit to the hosts but insists that lack of concentration from his players contributed to the result.
“Solomon was too good and too clinical in the first half”, he said.
“We stood and watched them, let them play and they were able to get those quick goals in. In this kind of tournament you let goals in, you start slow, it will be difficult to get back into the match.”
Pakakota was impressed with his boys performance in the second half as he switch focus to their next match.
“The boys did well in the second half I think we adopted well our strategy to get the game back but we just couldn’t get it in the end,” Pakakota added.
“I think definitely we need to do more work on our recovery in defence, it was one of the areas where we lacked and Solomons was able to quickly play balls forward and switch play from one side to the other. We were a bit too slow to recover in the first half.
“These are very young boys, some only 15 and it’s their first time playing this level so we just have to go back and work hard on our defence.”
The win means Solomon Islands are equal top with New Zealand on 3 points but the defending champions are occupying first position due to their better goal average.
Solomon Islands will play New Zealand on Wednesday at 3pm with a spot in the semi-finals at stake.